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The Cavalier Daily
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Home is where the hassle is

You've only just recovered from the strains of moving your desk, bed and stereo system into your new apartment. You've finally hung up posters and plugged in your computer, just in time to start studying for midterms. And now, in addition to everyday mid-semester stresses you already have to think about moving again - 10 months before the fact.

With the semester halfway complete and midterms in full swing, many students' current source of stress is far from academic. Instead, it centers on the search for housing. In a situation typical of large state universities, many University students move off Grounds for their second, third and fourth years. In fact, the University data digest reports that 65 percent of all students live off Grounds. However, such statistics often pose a big problem for the University housing situation.

"Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous," third-year College student Daniel Ingersoll said about signing a lease almost a year in advance.

In early October, many students, like Ingersoll, are frustrated over the premature and often unpleasant quest for housing.

Limited options exist as late as February or March, but most leases are signed in October or November of the previous year, said Joy Waring of Woodard Properties, a realty company located on 14th St. This rush isn't unique to Woodard properties but is indicative of typical property availability in Charlottesville.

While the University Housing Office may be a great resource for on-Grounds information, it provides little guidance to non-University housing.

John Evans, director of the University Housing Office, said it hasn't always been that way though.

"There used to be an off-campus office, but it turned out it was costing a good bit of money every year," Evans said. University Housing decided to focus solely on on-Grounds options and filling those rooms to keep costs down.

Independent realtors, who are not affiliated with University Housing, distribute fliers to the various schools, post listings on Web sites and advertise in locations such as Newcomb Hall.

"The University really should do more to help students with the process," third-year College student Jamie Capalbo said. "Everyone is pretty much on their own."

At James Madison University the situation is very different. There, the Office for Off Campus Life takes a more active role in helping students locate housing.

"The office was started in the '80s with just volunteers," said Hilarie Nicolson, a JMU senior who works 12 hours a week as a community coordinator. The office now boasts a full staff, a well-developed Web site and a variety of programs designed to assist students.

"The property managers and private owners - all the people that run housing - appreciate the works of Off Campus Life," said Ritter Clevenger, the director of the Utility, Deposit and Assistance Program at JMU.

Off Campus Life coordinates Apartment 101, a 45-minute program held in residence halls that is geared toward students who have

never lived on their own. The presentation addresses everything from beginning the housing search to signing a lease. Once a student signs a lease, they may attend Apartment 102 for information about managing additional costs, dealing with utilities and interacting with landlords. Additionally, the office provides clause-by-clause lease reviews and student-landlord mediation.

Third-year College student Meredith Buzas transferred to the University from JMU and noticed a difference in how housing is handled.

"It was a lot easier to arrange housing at JMU," Buzas said. "The selection was great and a whole lot cheaper too."

Virginia Tech also has an office dedicated to off-campus affairs - the Off Campus Housing, Commuter Services and Public Relations Office.

Tonya Delp of Burnette and Co. Realtors in Blacksburg explained how Virginia Tech works with the firm to assist students with housing arrangements. Burnette and other realtors in the Blacksburg community attend a university housing fair each October. The event takes place on campus and provides students with information about on- and off-campus possibilities.

"We actually just sponsored our fall housing fair yesterday," said Nindyia Ramchandani, a graduate senior at Virginia Tech who is one of four Off Campus Housing assistants. "We had a showing of like 2,800 kids and the spring one brings a much larger crowd."

During December and January, students at Virginia Tech are presented with the option to renew present leases. New leases generally are signed between January and March. According to Delp, the housing office is in constant contact with Burnette and Co. and works closely with the Blacksburg realtors.

But housing in Charlottesville remains the subject of long-standing frustration to the student body. A lack of specific guidelines and procedures outlined by local realty companies also may seem overwhelming to students who have never lived on their own before.

First-year students planning to move off Grounds are faced with a problem more worrisome than just balancing the housing search with normal academics. These new students find themselves in contractual commitments with students they have only just met.

"It's kind of weird how it's done so early in the year here," first-year College student Jo Zak said. "As soon as I moved into my dorm I had to start thinking about next year. There's a big rush to find roommates and a place to live."

Finding an apartment or house in a new town is hard enough, but first years who plan to rush fraternities and sororities in January face another problem. For those who take a bid, the option of living in a fraternity or sorority house creates a new complication, especially if a student already signed a lease in October.

"I'd like to live in a fraternity house," said first-year College student Jeremy Walters, who has not yet signed a lease. "It makes the housing issue a whole lot simpler."

While going Greek is a question in itself, housing raises another set of issues. Do students choose to live on the Rugby side of Grounds or off of Jefferson Park Avenue? Do they want a house or an apartment? Or would they rather stay on Grounds to avoid the hassle altogether?